I Am Watching a Man Adjust His Zipper

10 Aug

Why? Because he is directly in front of me as I sit at the Aer LIngus lounge.  But I digress.

Today marks one month since I have written on this blog and a whole HELLUVA lot has happened.  Why didn’t I write earlier?  Several reasons.  Let us start at La Mama.  First of all, Liz Swados.  I cannot explain Liz Swados at all.  There is no point.  Her work is unlike anything I have every done and also eye opening and powerful.  We made sounds.  Lots of sounds.  That’s really the only way I can describe it.  And is crazy and lovely and challenging and taught me that my voice can make sounds I did not know it had.

Ok, ok.  I will TRY to explain.  Liz has been around the world, studying sounds people make.  She then brings those sounds back and teaches them to people.  What is the big deal? <—you might ask this.  This is the big deal: people all over the world use their vocal instrument in very different ways.  We (in the US) probably only use about 40% of what our voice can do, and so these workshops teach you where else your sound can come from.  We do African chants, Thai songs – everything.  That was the final La Mama week.

Then I spent a few days relaxing in Liguria.

Then I got to the final leg of my trip: three weeks in Dublin with NYU.  To say the work was intense is an understatement.  We did not start slow at all.  We worked with, and spoke to, artists in Ireland who were doing Community Engaged Theatre, which is NOT community theatre.  Not by a long shot.  Again, how to explain?  Let me start easy.  For the Abbey Theatre, some part of Community Engaged Theatre is going into youth groups of kids who maybe haven’t finished high school or who tend to be troublesome and using theatre and the games and activities as a way of opening up to one another and to the possibilities.  That is such a simple way of stating it, and is also doing the Abbey no justice with that statement, but that is about the best way of putting it I can think of.  If my colleagues read this, they may be able to phrase it better in the comments section.

Upstate Theatre uses community engaged theatre like this: Ship Street is a site specific work on an old street in Drogheda called Ship Street.  The writer combed through hundreds of pages of archived materials to create characters to live in Ship Street.  The actors then perform scenes in the street or in the empty houses for a paying audience.  The stories belong to the people of the community.  Also, another piece called “The Far Side” is a group of people, form Drogheda, who have been telling various stories of their lives to one facilitator for over a year.  He culls through the stories, finds the most compelling bits (but the stories are without sentimentality, which seems to be important in this work) and is now working on staging the stories he has chosen.  It looks like he will videotape the stories and create theatrical/video installation that will go on tour.

Louise Lowe works out of Dublin.  She is in a community and has committed herself to telling the story of the area for 100 years of it’s history.  Two years ago she did a piece on the street and in various locations about the area when it was a Red Light District (1912-1940ish, I guess).  Again, stories found in archives and libraries and by speaking to residents.  Then she did a piece about the same area when it became a place for “wayward women” who were shipped off to Catholic Institutions.  That story is far too complex for one line, but, again, she used the street, a church, older buildings that actually were a part of those times.  So her work uses actors, but takes inspiration directly FROM the community in which it is.  She also works with community people on their contribution.

What this has shown me is that Theatre is so much more than what we usually think of it as.  I knew that intellectually, but to see it done, actively created, has been enthralling.

These shows are not attended by 3 people.  This work is KNOWN and people see it.  Everyday people go to see this work.  In New York, things like this seem to get swallowed up by Broadway.  In LA, it gets swallowed up by film/tv.  I have no idea if they even do it in the middle of the country.  We need a Louise Lowe in the US.

The work was also quite taxing.  A few days were intensely physical and left us exhausted.  Then, when we began to collaborate to create our own pieces, the work became, sometimes, combative.  The process is the process, however, and it must be honored.

My brain is overfull.  I am still processing my German, much less my work in Spoleto and in Dublin/Belfast.

By the way, I can now say I have created work on the streets of Spoleto, Dublin and Belfast.  Pretty proud of that.

I also made good friends and new relationships.  I am happy to have people with whom I can create art.  This excites me and leaves me thinking of all I can do in the next few years.

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